MC standing at the edge of the park, in what is normally a grassy field with picnic tables.


MC and I are staying with a friend in Detroit for a few weeks before we depart for our move to Seattle. This past Friday, I spent much of the day bracing for what we worried could turn into another round of devastating floods in Southeast Michigan. Between trips downstairs to monitor the small amount of water gurgling up from the basement drain, I kept a close eye on MDOT’s Twitter feed to check for road closures that might affect the bachelor party I was organizing that evening. Fortunately, the heavy rain had petered out into a drizzle by early afternoon, the basement water began receding by evening, and the bachelor party commenced without delay, axe throwing and all. 

Three weeks prior, the rain didn’t break. On Friday, June 25, a severe rainstorm hit the region, flooding basements and turning highway underpasses into swimming pools, complete with semi-truck roofs poking through the surface like island chains. My hometown of Dearborn, where we were still living last month, saw 7.5 inches of rain (over twice the average for June) and 8,000 damaged homes. 

The morning after the rain, I woke up to discover that the park we lived next to was now a floodplain, with picnic tables, parking lots, and baseball fields submerged by the swelling waters of the Rouge River, which cuts through the park. By the end of the day, our parking lot was submerged as well, and water lapped precariously against the basement unit windows of our building. Overall though, we escaped the flood unscathed. 

Now flash back to 2014 to another flash flood, when six inches of rain fell within a four hour span, flooding 40 percent of Dearborn basements, including my parents’ home. The experience of my brother, who was home alone at the time, frantically trying to remove things from the basement floor while water erupted like a geyser from the toilet, is now firmly cemented into the upper tier of family stories that get told and retold at family gatherings. I used to make light of the event, joking to my parents that it was the impetus they needed to redo the basement, resulting in a better hangout area with new carpet and more comfortable couches.

But as climate change turns hundred-year floods into annual threats, this joke has grown stale. The wildfires, the hurricanes, the droughts, it’s all becoming a horrible kind of natural disaster déjà vu. I recognize that, if the severity of climate disasters were to be ranked, basement flooding might seem like small potatoes. However, you may get a second opinion if you ask any Dearbornite about the joys of sloshing around knee-deep in a basement filled with brown sewage water that likely contains your own excrement and that of your neighbors, ripping and rolling up putrid carpets, showcasing your ruined belongings on the curb of your front lawn, replacing your appliances, then repeating this process all over again with another flood. So heavy rain has become how I relate to climate change. It is steady, creeping, and ready to overwhelm already strained infrastructures. 

In the middle of the downpour last June, there came a moment of impending doom and helplessness when upon checking my weather app, the seven-day forecast read 100 percent for the next several days, and 50–100 percent every day after. We’re screwed, I thought. 

In a miraculous twist, and in true Michigan fashion, the forecast was wrong and it didn’t rain any of the next three days, bringing a welcome reprieve and an end to the rising waters. The uneasy truth, though, is that it probably should have been much worse. We got lucky. What happens next time when the forecast is accurate and there is no opportunity to regroup?


  1. Geneva Langeland

    Great reflections on a painful reality, Chad. I’ll never forget the lecture I heard in 2016 by an energy economics professor at UM, who claimed that climate change would be something that happened to “other people” far off in some distant future. I was too shocked and incensed to speak up after the lecture, and he has since left the university. But I wish he could have talked to people in Detroit with flooded basements (or any of the other vulnerable groups experiencing the very real and present effects of climate change) to see how very wrong that perspective was.

    Good luck with the move!

    • Chad Westra

      Wow, that must have been infuriating. There will certainly be different levels of impact based on location, but nowhere, even climate haven Michigan (as I’ve heard it described, and am guilty myself of thinking), will be unaffected. With your work on the Great Lakes region, I’m sure you know that as much as anyone. Thanks for reading!

  2. Kyric Koning

    The reality of the world is interconnectivity. No one remains truly unaffected. Even seemingly unrelated things eventually tangle into some kind of bond.

    Always a treat, reading your variety of topics. I hope the transition to a new place of abode and thriving goes smoothly and that you may influence beneficially all with whom you come into contact.

    • Chad

      So true! A bond that we’re all in together, for better or worse.

      Thanks for reading and the well wishes, Kyric, I always appreciate your comments! Also, please keep me posted if you share any future writings on other platforms/mediums.


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